The Importance of Preaching the Negative as Well as the Positive -- By: Phillip Jensen

Journal: Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood
Volume: JBMW 05:2 (Fall 2000)
Article: The Importance of Preaching the Negative as Well as the Positive
Author: Phillip Jensen

The Importance of Preaching the Negative as Well as the Positive

Phillip Jensen

I had just met one of the wiser older saints of North American Christianity. We were walking together to an evening dinner party. Apropos of nothing he said to me, “Phillip, when men grow old, some of them go soft- headed and sentimental while others become cantankerous and irascible.”

It was a strange lesson to be given, but I understood what he meant about an hour later, when he seated me between two elderly preachers. In these two men I discovered a classic illustration of each type. I had been warned!

Over the next few days I listened to both these men preach, and sure enough, one was negative and the other positive. I saw in those few days a very common pattern of two different styles of preaching: an affirmative style that looks in the text for positive things to say about people and a negative style that always finds in the text things to criticize about others or the congregation.

Some people preach with great fervour sermons that are little more than reflections of their personality —emphasizing the positive or the negative in the text and in the congregation. These sermons have less to do with “speaking the words of God” than reflecting the personality of the preacher. Either he will place his personality upon the text or he will select only those texts that reflect his personality. However, faithful explication of the text in an ordered fashion will sometimes be negative and sometimes be positive, for both are to be found in the Bible irrespective of the preacher’s personality.

Reasons for Affirmative Preaching

Leaving personality aside, the current choice for most preachers today is the affirmative over the negative. There are several reasons for this choice. First, society at large pushes the preacher in this direction. Educational models promote the effectiveness of the affirmative style of teaching, as do most studies in advertising and public relations. Also, the relativism of today’s postmodern thought is positive about all statements — all statements, that is, except negations! The ideology of a multicultural society requires positivity about alternative views and frowns upon any communication that threatens the fragile peace that has been established between communities.

Second, the current climate in religious circles favors affirmative preaching. Courses in pastoral counseling point to the advantages of non-judgmental, positive communication. Pastors have to perform. The key to evaluation is no longer God’s judgment on the last day (1 Cor. 4:1–5) but the growth in congrega-tional numbers, budget and buildings. Leaders in the church are tempted to be like modern politicians, leading by follo...

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